William Kent Krueger’s Ordinary Grace is a remembered story. Remembered stories are different. The narrator, Frank Drum puts it this way--
“It seems to me that when you look back at a life, yours or another’s, what you see is a path that weaves into and out of deep shadow. So much is lost. What we use to construct the past is what has remained in the open., a hodgepodge of fleeting glimpses. Our histories, like my father’s current body, are structures built of toothpicks. So what I recall of that last summer in New Bremen is a construct both of what stands in the light and what I imagine in the dark where I cannot see.”
That summer in New Bremen saw several deaths including one life-changing death for Frank and his family.
I didn’t know it when I bought it, but Ordinary Grace is a New York Times best-selling book. It won a host of awards. More competent people than I have reviewed the book.
I need say little about it, except to give my impression that every character in the book was true-to-life (at least true-to-life as Frank remembers them).
Frank’s father always acts in love, even when he has heart-rending pain.
Frank’s younger brother is so sensitive it hurts.
Frank is a rebel, at least in a mild way. He is the one who intrudes and does the things one shouldn’t do.
Frank’s mother and sister are extraordinarily talented.
Frank’s mother has more character than first appears. She is stronger than she appears to be at first.
The family’s friends are strong and weak, brilliant and sometimes violent.
Krueger fills Ordinary Grace with disturbing small and large memories. We all have those memories. The time we saw and silently condoned cruelty to animals, or (in this book) the time we intentionally listened to a conversation we wish we hadn’t overheard.
Ordinary Grace is a religious story. The Ordinary Grace of the title is what religious people would call God's grace working in ordinary things, sometimes among people who don’t believe in God.
Some critics have compared this book to To Kill a Mockingbird. The two books are similar. From my memory of reading To Kill a Mockingbird several times years ago, Mockingbird was the better book.
But that doesn’t change anything. Ordinary Grace is a wonderful book. I won’t soon forget Ordinary Grace.